Winter is coming. I don't feel like I can really complain all that much, given that we actually had a decent hot, sunshine-filled summer which hasn't happened since 2004, but that was Very Long Time Ago. Nevertheless, I'm quite a fan of the changing of seasons. I'm autumn's child, but I also love it when the trees turn colour and you can crunch through piles of bronzed leaves, throwing them in the air like you're in Vermont or something, and oh! Those days you get when the sky is blue and the air cold enough to sting your nose a little and you come home to a warming cup of cocoa.
That's all bollocks of course, as was completely evident by my grim cycle home. Autumn in London is grey, windy and miserable. I was soaked to the bone, covered in car filth, and still reeling from screaming across the Elephant & Castle roundabout, desperately trying to see through rain-splattered glasses, in the dark. But I can console myself with the fact that this is one of the best eating times of year. Sweetcorn is in abundance - if you don't like sweetcorn you're dead to me - and those iron-rich brassicas. Mid-cycle, I stopped off at General Store, which is a gorgeous little shop selling top quality cured meats, cheeses, seasonal vegetables and other bits and pieces. I left with kale and chard and oregano and patty pan squashes and I was THIS CLOSE to buying a 'beer stick' (a slim cured salami-type-thing) to chew on the way home, such is the loveliness of everything in that place. My local greengrocer told me that that was the first time in 5 weeks my beloved mooli (an Asian turnip, also called daikon) was finally back in stock.
Mooli is most often seen in Japanese restaurants, shaved raw into a pile with your sushi. I much prefer it cooked; when done so, especially with meat, it becomes sweet and tender. It takes on the flavours of whatever you're cooking it in, which on this occasion was pork belly and miso. The miso makes the whole stew comforting, sweet but also imparts that essential umami, as it's made from fermented soybeans. I use a combination of red and white miso, the latter giving the dish a deeper saltiness, the white sweeter and milder in flavour. The pork, slowly braised until the meat falls apart in your mouth and the fat becomes silky and flavoursome, is still one of my favourite cuts of meat, despite the over-exposure it now gets on menus. It's the very essence of warming.
Miso-Braised Pork Belly
Serves 4 greedy people, and would serve 6 with a couple of side dishes
700gr skin on or off pork belly - if yours comes with ribs, simply take them off and use them for another dish, or stock, or congee
1 white onion, sliced finely
2 tsp red miso
3 tbsp white miso
1 tbsp mirin
1.5 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tsp sugar
450gr mooli / daikon - peeled and sliced into rounds about 1 inch thick
2 spring onions
Cut the pork belly into large cubes and place in a pot of boiling water. Boil for a couple of minutes; this is so that any scum comes floating to the surface now, and not in your stew.
Drain, rinse and set the saucepan back on the heat. Add a little oil, then add the white onions in a layer on the bottom. You don't want them cooking much at the moment. Add the pork belly in a layer on top. Pour over the sake, then the water. Cut a piece of parchment paper so that it fits into the pot nicely, then place the lid on. Cook on a low heat (you want a bare simmer) for 1.5 hours.
Add the mirin, light soy and sugar as well as the mooli, re-cover and cook for another hour. By now, the pork belly and the mooli should be tender, if not, cook a little longer. Discard the parchment, take out some of the stock, mix into the miso until it dissolves, then add to the stew. Cook on the barest simmer - don't boil, as it ruins any nutritional benefit in the miso - for another 15 minutes.
Slice the whites of the spring onion and add to the stew. Julienne the greens of the spring onion and set aside for garnish.
This isn't a thick stew as much of the liquid hasn't been evaporated off, so best to serve it in a large bowl or a pasta dish. Serve over white rice and garnish with spring onion.